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All spaces are now video spaces: three key concepts to connect in-office and remote teams

The future of the workplace is hybrid and so is the future of collaboration. Sixty-eight percent of global organizations are planning to experiment with hybrid work, allowing employees to work partly in the office and partly at home or a third place to varying degrees. Even companies who will primarily be in the office will encounter hybrid work — some partners, suppliers and customers will expect to connect over distance — and that means people will be collaborating with a blend of remote and co-located teammates more than ever before.

Leading organizations are taking steps now to prepare for a significant increase in hybrid collaboration, as more people return to the office, so they can be as productive as possible. These organizations recognize how much they need the energy and vibe that drive innovation and growth, but understand if people struggle, they will retreat to their homes.

HYBRID COLLABORATION IS COMPLEX

Starting now, every space is a video space. People are spending so much time adjusting camera angles, and figuring out content streams, they are losing the human connection and we need to make things easier – says Jessie Storey, Steelcase design manager who’s been working on improving the hybrid experience for 15 years.

The problems people faced pre-pandemic will only accelerate and masks and distancing won’t help, notes Storey. Issues people will struggle with are:

  • Inequitable environment – When remote teammates can’t see or hear, they have to work harder to be involved. The root cause of that presence disparity is the poor integration of physical space and digital tools.
  • Complex connections – It’s tough to read body language, make eye contact and sense the group’s mood over video.
  • Failing to engage – It’s hard to share content in a way that engages both in-person and remote participants. Can remote teammates see if someone is using a markerboard?
  • Inhibiting innovation – Generating new ideas is the most difficult type of collaboration. Being active can help people be more engaged and creative – that’s tough on video.

A HYBRID FUTURE + BYOD

As organizations test new ways of working some variables will remain in flux: how many people will participate on both ends of a video call, how will employees own and share different types of collaboration spaces, and what hardware and software platforms will stick.

Other shifts are more certain – like a hybrid future and a BYOD (bring your own device) model. BYOD relies more heavily on workers’ mobile devices instead of completely integrated, dedicated room systems. By supporting and integrating a variety of hardware and software solutions, people can connect in the easiest and most productive ways for them.

RANGE OF SPACES + TECHNOLOGY

To create the best possible hybrid work experience, organizations will want to offer a range of spaces and technology solutions to easily support diverse types of collaboration – from a planned creative session to an impromptu one-on-one and everything in between.

We need to focus on braiding the digital and the physical – says Storey. – It’s not enough to just bring remote people into the space, we need to give those in the office a better virtual presence by designing important elements like cameras, acoustics, content and lighting.

It’s not enough to just bring remote people into the space, we need to give those in the office a better virtual presence – Jessie Storey, Steelcase Design Manager.

THREE KEY CONCEPTS FOR BETTER HYBRID COLLABORATION

Steelcase researchers, designers and technology experts have developed collaboration solutions for global teams for more than a decade, aggregating key learnings about how to help teams work across distance. These insights can help organizations prepare for a future in which daily collaboration happens among a blend of co-located and remote participants, using diverse technology and high performing spaces:

Equity

Design experiences that eliminate the gap of not being co-located.

  • Enable both remote and co-located participants to move around the room – mobile furniture and displays will help. Remote team members shouldn’t always be “on stage” next to content.
  • Use cameras on both shared and individual devices, especially for new teams. Shared devices (room view) should be primary and individual devices (close up view) secondary.
  • Help people feel confident on video by addressing on-camera, task and ambient lighting. Warm, intense LED lights just above head height and off to the side are best for video.
  • Consider the space’s size, boundaries, materials and the direction of microphones and speakers for the best audio on both ends.
  • Develop more intentional shared etiquette and protocols. (Read Collaboration in the Hybrid Workplace).

Engagement

Use space and technology to foster natural and inclusive interactions for co-located and remote participants.

  • Arrange remote and local participants, and digital and analog content to ensure equal participation. Some software platforms and integrated technology systems support the use of multiple displays which allow people and content to be separated creating a more equitable experience.
  • Design for the camera’s field of view (i.e. 90, 120 degree). Make sure people and content can be seen by remote participants. AI-powered video conference cameras allow for a wide angle and new ways to enhance analog content virtually. Huddly’s Canvas is one content camera that works with Microsoft Teams and Zoom to improve whiteboard images by removing gloss and shadows, boost marker colors and hide people who might be in front of the camera.
  • Use shared content creation tools that provide equal access to digital and analog information and enable multiple modes of collaboration (ex. digital workspaces like Mural).

Ease

Enable simple and seamless transitions across multiple interfaces, displays and experiences.

  • Shared devices should connect easily with personal devices and let people interact with both when necessary.
  • Make sure both remote and co-located participants have clean sight lines to people and content. Flexible furnishings and/or the use of mobile devices allow you to move co-located or remote participants to give them the best view as the meeting evolves.
  • The range of technology experiences should work together and pair with a variety of devices and software solutions. While your organization may favor one platform, people making external connections may still need to use a variety of solutions.

PILOT. PARTICIPATE. PIVOT.

As people begin to test out how to collaborate in new ways, technology and the workplace will continue to evolve. It’s a great time to test new types of spaces by setting up a pilot that braids together the physical and the digital. The best advice is to invite employees to participate in any pilot. Participation and open channels for feedback will send a message that nothing is set in stone. And, be prepared to pivot. As people experience the hybrid workplace they’ll make adjustments to how they are working and their environment, process and protocols will need to adapt as well. A flexible workplace designed to evolve and adapt as people’s needs change will help poise organizations to compete and grow in the future.

Author: Wojciech Krupa, Strategic Account Manager, Workplace Consultant, Steelcase